Royal College of Arts (U.K.) / Instructor: Torange Khonsari, Andreas Lang & Francesco Sebregondi (2014)
Coral Frontiers: Towards a Post-Military Landscape is a proposal for a new infrastructure for coral regeneration on the Island of Diego Garcia. It is also a geo-political intervention into a unique entanglement of military, human rights, and environmental stakes. The project explores how could an architectural proposal result in a shift in the balance of power that has crystallized in this remote island, and support the resettlement of the exiled community of its native inhabitants, the Chagossians.
Situated in the middle of Indian Ocean, Diego Garcia is one of the most remote and inaccessible places on earth. Yet this 27 km² of coral and sand is still one of the most valuable territorial and geopolitical assets of the United Kingdom. In 1966, this lush, tropical paradise was leased to the US as the biggest US military base outside the States that the Pentagon calls an ‘indispensable platform’ for policing the world. For this spatial anomaly to happen, one whole nation had to be brutally ‘swept and sanitized’ and lost one of their fundamental human rights — the right of abode in their homeland. Still today, 40 years after their forced displacement, the majority of the 5000 Chagossians in exile are actively campaigning for their right to return. Today is a crucial time to examine the island as by the end of 2016, the 50 year-long UK lease of Diego Garcia will expire. This project explores a speculative scenario in which, due to pressure by the international community and human rights institutions, the Chagossian return to their homeland is one of the conditions for the US lease of the island to be extended.
Diego Garcia is recognized as a prism, through which a set of contemporary conditions of power and culture can be examined in great resolution. A speculative architectural intervention out there is attempt to foster debate here and now about the the (mis-)use of the discursive apparatus of “rights” — be their human or environmental rights — as a support to global power structures. Could architecture, in reversal of the same process, use strategies and legal frameworks of environmental protection to support the claims of the exiled Chagossian community and to act against the Island’s occupier?
In order to avoid reproducing, through architecture, the colonial schema that first led to their forced displacement, I chose not to impose a design solution for the resettled community. Instead, this project is a proposal for their first means of survival — the infrastructure that may sustain their resettlement. While the island would initially be a shared territory between two opposite presences — an occupying army and a community of returning exiles, the project imagines the progressive replacement of the former by the latter, through a process of reclaiming water and land. Just like it uses the fragility of the coral as both a weaponry and a line of defense, this project attempts to turn vulnerability into a force, and to challenge the defeatist assumptions that a small exiled community would always has to bend to the will of powerful governments.